Tekhnema 2 / "Technics and Finitude"/ Spring 1995


Richard Beardsworth

"Technics and Finitude"*

The two mottoes of this issue are:

1. Think finitude in terms of technics and technics in terms of finitude.

2. The thinking of technics, as the thinking of the relation between the human and the non-human, can be nothing but experimental.

In the first issue of Tekhnema, we were neither unilaterally axiomatic nor unilaterally affirmative concerning modern processes of technicization. To recap: what we set out within the issue, and as the future intellectual orientation of the journal as a whole, was to invite and provoke a re-thinking of the relation between the human and the non-human. Tekhnema foregrounded philosophy to think this relation because it believed that philosophy was particularly well-placed to reconsider the ‘between’ between the human and the non-human, having constitutively excluded technicity from the ends of the human throughout the history of its institutions (including Marxism). In Tekhnema’s opinion, philosophy’s inheritance was, paradoxically, what made philosophy so sensitive and inventive with regard to the present and future re-organization of the spaces of philosophy’s classical exclusions. Such an opinion implicitly opposed any judgment concerning the ‘end’ of philosophy or the ‘end’ of the ‘human’. But the re-organization of these spaces meant simultaneously that philosophy could only think this relation with other disciplines. This implied, in turn, two things: on the one hand, philosophical thought (in opposition to the paranoid belief in ‘pure’ technicization or the pure affirmation of technology); on the other hand, experimentation beyond the discipline of philosophy (in opposition to the schizophrenic or neurotic belief in ‘pure’ philosophy). Tekhnema wished to speak, then, neither in the name of the non-human, nor in the name of the human.

In this second issue of Tekhnema, we intend to sharpen this thinking of the ‘between’: firstly, by giving space to those who maintain that a thinking of finitude is to be conceived as a thinking of technicity; and secondly, by stressing the important point that technics is finite. In the editorial orientation of this issue, Tekhnema wishes to demarcate itself from any and all attempts to subordinate technology to human power and ends—which would be tantamount to repeating the age-old metaphysical exclusion of technics from the principles of human power and activity. Simultaneously, however, it wishes to demarcate itself also from any and all naive or sophisticated affirmations of the technological over and against the apparent weakness of the human, given the greater speed and power which now visibly emanate from technology—another metaphysical form of thinking which turns technics into an absolute, thereby forgetting, precisely, the ‘between’.

Since experimentation is the very name of discourse as finitude, this issue of Tekhnema, whilst primarily philosophical in tone, will be varied in its parts, linking and bringing to bear upon the theme of technics several disciplines and intellectual gestures. The ‘between’ of experimentation will therefore repeat on a methodological level the ‘between’ of what is to be thought. This is not an aesthetic or interdisciplinary nicety, however. As we said above, the ‘between’ between the human and non-human can only be thought experimentally—experimentation, not only through ‘thinking’ in more than one discipline, but also, through ‘thinking’ in more than one invention upon material inscription. Hence our second motto and hence the particular form of this issue of Tekhnema: the reader will find various interventions on the relations in play between art, philosophy and technics on the one hand, and between philosophy, science and technics on the other. Throughout the journal, the issue nevertheless remains the same, that of the finitude of human experience as the relationship between the human and the non-human.

Let us now introduce the general lines of the six contributions. The first paper "The Melancholy of Technology" by Adrian Harding constitutes an attack on postmodernism, arguing that the ‘postmodern’ is a discourse on technology that works exclusively with information. For Harding, the postmodern untying of information from semantic context results in a notion of memory which is purely technological. Here, he makes a distinction between the purely technological and a ‘technique’ of memory which, as experience, is the creative mediation between the human and the non-human; the example is Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. Harding’s distinction between technique and technology is, at the same time, an affirmation of mourning and melancholy as the experience of the relation between the human and the non-human. This affirmation is necessarily also one of the multiple possibilities of the future. Since the experiential dynamic of the human is always contingent, since this dynamic is always predicated on a contingent relation between the different temporalities that make up the human, no-body and no-thing has a monopoly over the future. That Harding’s distinction between technique and technology may end up, nevertheless, as an axiomatic opposition, one which denies the very object—material inscription—which the distinction wishes at the same time to think, we leave the reader to judge.

Mark C. Taylor’s article, "Rhizomic Folds of the Interstanding", consists in a re-elaboration of contemporary philosophies of finitude in terms of technospace, the mediatrix and the ‘net’. Arguing that the new technospaces transform personal and social conditions of experience, Taylor, in contrast to Harding, affirms the postmodern. With this affirmation of the postmodern in view, Taylor makes the following philosophical conceit: if the society of the spectacle is the historical realization of Hegel’s speculative philosophy, then the contemporary and future society of the net is the realization of Deleuzian rhizomic logic. This logic—a-logical, nomadic, non-centered and ‘superficial’—both allows us to think the contemporary electronization of the world and inscribes in material terms what this logic has promised against the institutions of politico-philosophical tradition. Taylor thereby makes the important observation that technospace is transforming the conditions of indivi-dual and collective experience, an observation that gives a specific, emphatic purchase to his concomitant consideration of the Internet as a site of struggle and power. Whether or not Taylor’s affirmation that the future promise of philosophy is inscribed in technospace also runs the risk—if precisely in an inverse way to Harding’s judgment of techno-logy—of turning technospace into an infinite and of thereby losing the finitude of material inscription (with regard to the Internet, access to the sites of technological communication) is, again, for the reader to judge.

What is clear is that the deep convictions of both articles respond to each other and allow both the thinking of finitude in terms of technics and the thinking of technics in terms of finitude to emerge through the articles’ respective positions towards the relations between art, philo-sophy and technology.

Bernadette Tintaud’s photography is a different instance of the ‘thinking’ of the ‘between’ which is the codeword of this issue. Her experimentation with the limits of the photographic medium in terms of the conflictual relations between what is seized by the lens and then developed on the chemical support have led her to a photographic inscription of the space and time of human orientation that critically ‘underscores’ the retrospective nature of any unifying conceptual or temporal horizon. What might have been construed retrospectively as a subject or theme (‘Up a Stairway’ or ‘Across a Bridge’: see midsection) remains, through photographic experimentation, an unstable play between human and non-human time. Moreover, through Tintaud’s own work, this play is seen, reflectively, as the very work of temporalization itself. The distinction between the human and non-human is thus redeployed as a differentiated but inextricable relation within processes of temporalization (here, the ‘spacing’ of ‘temporal’ and ‘spatial’ inscriptions).

Jean-Philippe Milet’s article "Experience as Technique of the Self" constitutes a radical re-reading of Foucault’s later work on sexuality which shows the irreducible relation between singularity and technology. Set against philosophies which wish to distinguish the self from technical inscription (that is to say, philosophies of the modern subject) as well as against thinking which would reduce human experience to technological repetition (for example, negatively on the one hand, the Marxian concept of ‘alienation’ or the Benjaminian concept of mechanical ‘reproducibility’, and positively on the other hand, the contemporary culture of ‘speed’), Milet argues for an understanding of experience as radically historical and technical. There can be no experience without a certain technicity, and, crucially, no technicity without the possibility of the singularity of that experience. He thereby re-organizes the contemporary constellation of the relations between the philosophies of Foucault, Nietzsche and Derrida. The major concept which ensues from this reconfiguration is that of ‘historical change’ as ‘want of rule’ (défaut de règles) or of the ‘historicity of experience’ as the ‘transformability of rules’.

The fourth article in this issue is "Die Wissenschaft denkt nicht" by Jean-Michel Salanskis. In this major paper, Salanskis reconsiders Heidegger’s notorious judgment that science does not think. He confronts Heidegger’s understanding of the circle of hermeneutic orientation with contemporary procedures of formalization in mathematics and physics. He thereby questions the pertinence of the Heideggerian opposition between the ‘hermeneutical’ and the ‘formal’ by showing, through allusion to the ‘model’ theory informing contemporary scientific inquiry, that Heidegger’s hermeneutics is predicated upon the negation of the syntax of thought. It is through this negation that Heidegger can make an axiomatic distinction between thinking and the sciences, and can ultimately deny the originary technicity of thought. For this syntax is the material inscription of meaning as such. Salanskis thus argues that Heidegger’s negative judgment of the sciences, and therefore ultimately of technics, stems from a failure to think materiality. What is particularly convincing in this article is its demonstration that this failure informs both the best of Heidegger’s philosophy and the worst of his political commitments. The article thus lays the ground for a welcome re-reading of Heidegger’s politics in terms of the relations between philosophy, the sciences and material inscription.

Richard Beardsworth, in his review article of Bernard Stiegler’s ground-breaking La Technique et le temps: Tome 1. La faute d’Epiméthée, insists that the thinking of matter which is needed today, must not simply re-organize any understanding of matter within the metaphysical opposition between matter and form, but also develop recent attempts to go beyond this opposition. In contrast to philosophies which have left matter suspended as the ‘other’ of the concept, he argues that the great merit of Stiegler’s book is to have provided us with a genealogy of matter. This genealogy allows an understanding of material inscription in terms of technical finitude and invention: matter is understood as the ‘history of the differentiations of life’. Matter is thus the history of matter as the history of the relation between the human and the non-human. Focusing on two aspects of Stiegler’s work—the absolute specificity of its ‘deconstruction’ of the empirico-transcendental difference in terms of a genealogy of ‘matter’, and its reading of Heidegger’s concept of Schuldigsein in Being and Time in terms of originary technicity—Beardsworth argues that La Technique et le temps constitutes an important, if not decisive, re-inscription of twentieth-century philosophical concerns around finitude. It represents at the same time a major contribution to our understanding of the terms in which the future of the relation between the human and the non-human can be invented. For Stiegler’s genealogy leads to a reflective politics of memory.

In conclusion, we would like to insist that all six contributions reconsider past intellectual orientations and antagonisms, indeed splits, in terms of the material inscription of events. This confirms our belief—one which at times goes beyond the explicit ends of the articles themselves—not only that the thinking of finitude must accompany the thinking of technics, and that the thinking of technics must accompany the thinking of finitude, but also that it is only through such thinking—such experimenting—of this reciprocity that invention is possible. Times and sites of invention are made possible through experimentation on the ‘between’ between the human and the non-human. Without this reciprocity, without this ‘between’, the metaphysical disavowal (in the Freudian sense) of technics will inevitably return from the future in the inverse form of unilateral affirmations of technology. Thinking and experimenting on the ‘between’ is, in contrast to this type of affirmation, the very invention of the future.

In the perspective of this invention, and following our concomitant wish to open up new spaces of reflection and experimentation, the next issue of Tekhnema (Issue 3, Fall 1995) will be devoted to thinking the increasingly important relations between the originary technicity of the human species, contemporary organizations of ‘artificial’ memory and the sexual/affective determinations of the processes of human individual and collective memory. The issue will be entitled: "The Touch of Memory".


* See note 2 to Richard Beardsworth's article "From a Genealogy of Matter..." for the general editorial distinction between 'technics' and 'technology'. This distinction is not followed by all the contributors. An explicit elaboration of terms is reserved for a future issue.